Opinion

Renée Graham

Lashing out at #MeToo, Trump unleashes ‘Not Me’

US President Donald Trump speaks during a "Make America Great Again" rally at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, on October 2, 2018. (Photo by
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
President Trump speaks during a rally in Mississippi on Tuesday night.

What began as President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court will long reverberate as an all-out GOP assault on the #MeToo movement and sexual assault survivors.

It’s not just that Trump savagely mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the first of three women to publicly accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Trump recast his second high court nominee as a martyr whose reputation was sacrificed by Democrats and, especially, lying women.

This is Trump’s caustic “Not Me” movement.

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“It’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of,” said Trump in response to questions about the FBI investigation into multiple sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.

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“What’s happening here has much more to do than even the appointment of a Supreme Court justice, it really does,” he said. “You can be somebody that was perfect your entire life, and somebody could accuse you of something. . . and you’re automatically guilty. In this realm, you are truly guilty until you are proven innocent.”

What Trump is saying is a lie. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, fewer than 10 percent of sexual assault reports to police are considered false. Yet the idea that they’re far more common is one of the reasons why more than 60 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to authorities. Society is predisposed to believe a man’s denials over a woman’s truth.

And lest anyone forget, Trump hasn’t always been so magnanimous toward the accused.

In 1989, he bought full-page newspaper ads that blared “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” That was his response when five boys of color, 16 and under, were falsely accused of beating and raping a white woman in New York. After years in prison, the Central Park Five were exonerated in 2002.

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Trump has never apologized for decades of scurrilous statements about them. Equitable treatment of black and brown people isn’t even a passing consideration for this man.

Nor is simple human decency. At his recent rally in Mississippi, Trump ridiculed Ford’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony last month, and reveled in the laughs he received from both men and women supporters standing behind him. After a chorus of “We want Kavanaugh” chants, Trump said, “It’s a damn sad situation. Think of your son. Think of your husband.”

The president, who hasn’t found a hateful trope he wouldn’t exploit, never mentioned the daily damage sexual asssault wreaks on daughters or wives. He’s too busy stoking lies about false accusations leveled by evil women against unsuspecting “good” men.

Since more than 20 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, he likely places himself among those men. At his recent shambolic press conference, he admitted that his own history “does impact my opinion” about the Kavanaugh allegations.

“I’ve had a lot of false charges made,” Trump said. “I am a very famous person, unfortunately. I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me, really false charges.”

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Still, Trump is right about this: what’s happened in recent weeks is about more than who gets a Supreme Court seat. Don’t get me wrong. Given Kavanaugh’s clear partisan bias — demonstrated with great bellicosity and volume during his Judiciary Committee testimony — he’s a threat to social justice. He was wrong for the court long before the world heard Ford’s allegations.

What’s happened in recent weeks is about more than who gets a Supreme Court seat.

More broadly, the White House-endorsed a smear campaign to stifle sexual assault survivors at a time when many are finally sharing the horrors they’ve endured. A year after the #MeToo movement founded by Tarana Burke went viral, women and some men are still telling their stories. Recently, “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi and veteran TV journalist Connie Chung have added their voices in published essays about surviving their own sexual assaults.

Trump is hearing none of it. With conservatives, he has seized the Kavanaugh fight to attack Ford and, by proxy, all sexual assault survivors. The end game is clear: to push them back into shame and shadows, as perpetrators thrive undetected.

Women, especially, have always faced doubters when it comes to sexual assault. But never before have they been confronted with the misogynistic wrath of a president of the United States. Still, Trump shouldn’t expect the last word. With the midterm elections fast approaching, that word may come from the concentrated rage of millions determined to be silent no more.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.